As I reach for my pen this evening, I am reminded by the many posts on social media that it is International Women’s day. Of course, for many, it is a day like any other. But in Bethlehem, we have taken the day off to remember the great achievements of women; to thank them for their ambitions and dreams, and to support them in their challenges and struggles.
I believe all women are unique, but I have a special calling for the theological education of women in the Arab World. Quite recently I was accepted for a PhD programme, through which I am writing a thesis entitled: “Theological Education of Women in the Arab World: An Exploration of Religious and Cultural Assumptions Impacting their Participation.”
I consider it a privilege to be writing about women in general but specifically Arab Christian women. These women have a lot of unleashed potential that can have a transforming impact on their churches, theological institutes and societies.
The aim of my research is to examine the specific cultural and religious challenges that hinder female students in Palestine and the Arab World from pursuing further studies in theological education. I also hope to offer reflection on the issues that limit Palestinian and Arab women in pursuing higher theological education, and to identify how these might be removed in order to increase the way in which Arab women can be of service to the global body of Christ.
Having taught at Bethlehem Bible College for a number of years, I have identified many outstanding female students who have the potential to go far with their studies but who, due to various cultural limitations, do not have the opportunity to do so. A patriarchal society and certain cultural expectations act as a barrier to many of their dreams.
Surely, this must change. Female students constitute the higher percentage of our students at BethBC and this is a great advantage. We must make the best use of it. Many of them are housewives and mothers and are full of passion to learn the Bible and put it into good practice.
Like every other field in academia, women should have the opportunity to have a strong presence in the field of theological education. The study of theology is the knowledge of God himself. It demands that women are allowed and encouraged to master Biblical and theological content. The thought, or may I call it a dream, of seminaries overflowing with women students makes some shrink but fills others with motivation. We have to be that one additional voice that speaks about the importance of this calling, to encourage women to study for themselves and take significant roles as teachers and leaders in our Arab society.
Opportunities to learn online
Still, God makes it possible for little sparkles to shine. Recently, I have been involved in teaching in our online programme of biblical studies at Bethlehem Bible College. I find it amazing how God can allow us to reach out to remote and isolated places in the world.
Through this programme, I have got to know a young Egyptian Christian who wrote in her application form for our undergraduate course:
I prayed for an opportunity to study the Bible and the Lord put before me Bethlehem Bible College. I saw an online announcement about this degree and I cannot be more thankful to be studying through a college that is based where the Lord Jesus himself was born!”
Poet Amal, as she calls herself, is passionate about learning from the Word of the Lord and growing in her relationship with the Lord. She comes from a village called Hur in the suburbs of Malawi, Alminya in Upper Egypt. It makes my heart leap to know that our online learning platform is making training possible in such an impoverished place.
Although Amal accesses her lessons through her phone, she finds sheer joy in learning gems from the Word of God every day. This has added significant worth to her life and calling. As she draws closer to the Lord, she finds her true source of joy in what may seem like a crippled world. This is what theological education is all about; drawing closer to the source of all theology, to the living God, the author of wisdom and inspiration.
Other women I get to teach and know through online learning are from all over the Arab world: Jordanians and Iraqis who reside in European countries, and even Palestinians who live in exile. All share the same hunger and thirst to drink from the well of knowledge and source of wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ. There are also many Arab male students from Syria and Egypt and Yemen, whom I believe God is equally using in various ministries throughout the Arab World or in the Western places where they live now.
In her article, “Women in Theology,” Mary Malone highlights the absence of women from the theological field. She states: “The very doing of theology has traditionally been based on the absence of women. The language of theology excludes the voice of women almost completely and, therefore, the theology curriculum usually functions without any reference to the authoritative voice or experience of women.”
Malone’s statement highlights the sad reality that women are not only excluded from the field of theological education but also their contribution is not primarily given weight or importance. Often, literature and authors discuss theological issues and arrive at their conclusions without giving the slightest consideration to women’s existence or role in theological education.
However, all of us (male and female) should have a mission and a calling to encourage women not only to pursue theology-based degrees but also to put what they have learnt into practice in their own churches and theological colleges. When we encourage Arab women to think, speak, write and share, we are investing greatly in God’s Kingdom.
God can speak through a woman just as he can speak through a man! Ultimately, he is looking for humble servants, faithful stewards and good listeners to fulfill his plan here on earth and to expand His Kingdom.
SAT-7 has always recognised that many women in the Middle East have fewer opportunities to hear the Good News of Jesus and its application to their lives and has treated them as a priority audience. Specially made programmes seek to support and encourage women in male-dominated societies to achieve their God-given potential. Theology programmes, including the curriculum-linked series TEACH (Teaching Arab Christians at Home) enable Christian men and women to grow in their faith, skills and leadership and are linked to online learning provided by Bethlehem Bible College and other institutions in the region.
 Women in Theology Author(s): Mary T. Malone Source: The Furrow, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Apr., 1999), pp. 217-225